Donald Barthelme: A City of Churches

DEAL ME IN – WEEK 28

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For week 28 of my Deal Me In 2015 Short Story Project, I drew the Three of Hearts which corresponds to the story of another “new to me” author, Donald Barthelme’s “A City of Churches”.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seenhere. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Cecilia moves to a new city to set up a car rental business.  Her realtor points out to her that the city is made up of nothing but churches.  Each church contains places for people to live and doubles as another business.  For example, Antioch Pentacostal is also a barber shop. A little bit of humor pops up when Cecilia is shown a potential residence in a bell tower:

“Of course when they’re rung you have to be pretty quick at getting out of the way.  You get hit in the head by one of these babies and that’s all she wrote.”

Not being a churchgoer, Cecilia finds this town rather odd and not really to her liking.  What’s more surprising is when the townspeople tell her that nobody needs rental cars. Her realtor tells her that they need someone to stand behind the car rental desk (at Mount Moriah Baptist) so that it looks right. This story had a strange similarity to the Jim Carey film The Truman Show in that everyone seemed to play a part.

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The ending puzzled me more than anything although in the days since I’ve read this, I’ve come to at least appreciate it. Given the borderline dystopian air about this story, I was expecting one of two endings: 1) the evil, controlling religious institutions win and squash whatever individuality Cecilia has or 2) Cecilia, through great struggle, triumphs over the evil controlling religious institutions.  The actual “We’ll see about that” ending gives no resolution. Perhaps the ending is meant for the reader to simply think about the situation which is by no means a negative quality.

I know at least a handful of people who are churchgoers who would also find this city’s set-up odd and troublesome.  My gut reaction is that Barthelme is trying to point out the shallowness of people having to play a part or needing to “go through the motions”.

This story is in my collection The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike.

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One response to “Donald Barthelme: A City of Churches

  1. Pingback: Deal Me In 2015 – Week 28 Wrap Up | Bibliophilopolis

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